If there was any doubt about the existence of a fentanyl crisis in 2015, it was wiped away in 2016.
By the end of November there had been 755 overdose deaths in the province — 40 of which were in Kelowna.
Perry Kendall, B.C.’s Provincial Health Officer had declared a public health emergency in April, and has repeatedly said that he’s never seen anything of its kind.
As such, Health Authorities have enacted new measures to try and stem the tide of fatalities.
At first that meant providing at-risk populations with take-home naloxone kits.
Then they made moves toward getting supervised injection sites up and running.
Earlier this month an Overdose Prevention Site was opened while community efforts established other pop-up style sites.
These efforts are being made, but the death toll keeps growing and those on the frontlines of the crisis say that public education may be key to the effort.
“Clearly illicit drugs are becoming increasingly unpredictable and increasingly perilous,” said B.C. Chief coroner Lisa LaPointe, earlier in the month, noting that something stronger than fentanyl has entered the drug stream, likely carfentanil.
“People think this is somebody’ else’s problem — somebody else is at risk…These are people from all communities and all walks of life. There are teachers, university professors. People think they are immune because they don’t live in the Downtown Eastside, but that’s not true.”
LaPointe was right.
When you’re able to put a face to an issue it makes a tremendous difference.
That’s what a 47 year old Kelowna man named Paul did for us, at the Capital News. Paul, bluntly and clearly, made the case that these aren’t “scumbags” overdosing in alleyways and alone in their homes.
The 40 men and women who died in Kelowna from January to November of this year are regular people who struggled with something bigger than themselves — addiction.
For Paul, addiction gripped his life after he was in a catastrophic accident that required the amputation of two of his limbs.
As he made his way through the next two decades, he did what he could to alleviate his pain and that effort hasn’t always been safe.
If need be, he takes off-market drugs, like heroin.
And, he explained, he’s not alone.
Among those he knows taking off-market drugs are nurses, teachers, local shop-keepers.
And they have families and loved ones who want to see them live, thus the need for Overdose Prevention sites.
This story won’t stop in 2016, but our hope is that it’s one of improvement for 2017.